I always liked gaming, especially with some friends at school a long time ago. I liked playing on the NES, SNES, Amiga, C64 even though I didn’t have any of those consoles back then. But it was cool to gather around (usually with one person) and experience a game together, even if it didn’t have a multiplayer part.
My first console was the portable Gameboy which you could have some multiplayer sessions with if you had the games, a link cable and people to play them with. As there was usually one of those three parts missing, there wasn’t much going on in that department.
Only when I got a rather new IBM PC (486 with 25 Mhz, 4 MB RAM, 120 MB hard disc; at least these are the specs I remember), gaming started a bit more serious and time consuming. Although I wouldn’t consider my gaming skills over-the-top-great (translate: not so good), I invested quite a lot of time in the games, trying out different genres. After all it was in the early 90ies when I was around 10 or so. Of course my mom bought the computer for school work purposes, but you know how it is…
Now the internet was in its early stage and people wouldn’t really use it because it was too slow and too expensive. But what they used was LAN (=local area network) system, so you could connect a lot of PCs and compete against each other. I guess this explaining sounds a bit like talking on the history channel as it’s been quite some time (even though LAN is not a thing of the past, but it was pretty new for me and some others at that particular time and place).
Anyway, groundbreaking games like the first-person-shooter “Doom” (which was put off the shelves because of German censorship) and “Command & Conquer” or “StarCraft” were the things people played at LAN-parties. Only thing was: I was never really so much into it that I attended these events. There were also some at school at night when it closed (of course with the public authorities giving their consent). I guess I’ve never really cared too much about the competitive element of gaming on the grand scale, even though going on a rampage in “Doom” with two other people in a friend’s house was kind of cool.
Of course I was always interested in what direction this was going, especially when the first pro gaming leagues in Germany turned up, having “Quake” (another game which the censorship of Germany made disappear from the shelves) matches and other Blizzard games on the competition list.
Then again it was never really that big in Germany like in other countries, especially in Korea where today playing StarCraft is considered a national sport. It’s another indication of how games are accepted by countries and their people. Gaming has already become a part of culture. Unfortunately Germany is (with so many other things) a bit slow on that subject and prejudiced in many ways (something which needs a blog entry of its own).
I myself have the highest esteem for people who are spending all their time and energy making games and also for those who play these games excessively, with or without getting paid. I consider pro gaming (as far as my limited scope makes it possible) as a sport because it needs such fast reflexes, especially with eye-hands-coordination, that I’m always fascinated how people can be so good at games I played for some time (for the storytelling parts) and I rarely play now.
I was very lucky to have watched an American female pro gamer at the Instant Action booth at the Gamescom 2010. I was even happier to get a spontaneous interview with her. As pro gaming isn’t really my expertise and some questions were quickly made up as the interview went along, I hope I’d be forgiven if it’s not your usual well-researched or organized interview. So without further ado, here’s a transcription of my interview with pro gamer CiJi Thornton aka StarSlay3r:
When did you start playing videogames?
When I was 4 years old.
How old are you now?
What games console did you own and which games did you play back then?
The NES, mainly Mario titles. But I also played coin-up games in the arcade, like “DDR” (=Dance Dance Revolution) and Konami’s “Guitar Freaks” later on.
When did you start your pro gaming career?
I started competing in 1999 and went pro 4 years ago.
What genres/games did you specialise on?
Rhythm-Action (like “Guitar Hero”), Racing (like “Need for Speed Shift”), Beat’em’Up (like “Street Fighter IV”).
How do you actually earn money with your gaming?
I promote other companies by wearing their outfits, accessories. But I only chose those which fit my gaming style and personality. I don’t run around and put everything on just to make more money. I also appear in TV shows, participate in competitions and have exclusive performance contracts, like at the Gamescom. Usually the companies contact me.
How does your time schedule for practicing look like?
It’s usually 20-hours-gaming per week, although if an event like a competition is coming up, it can be up to 60 hours. I often go to arcades during night-time when there are most people around. I then sleep during the day, until 2-3 pm or soand continue gaming ’til night time.
What impression did you get of German gamers, like at the Gamescom?
It’s definitely different than in the US where people usually come up to the “stage” and cheer you on. Here people are a bit reserved and shy, even though they are nice and friendly when you’re talking to them. Another thing I found interesting was that there are so many people walking around in clan shirts here. You don’t see that very often: members of their gaming clans promoting their teams.
A final question, because you’re playing all these songs with the Instant Action program: What’s your favorite band (at the moment)?
It’s too bad that the questions were a bit unorganized, and it doesn’t help much that it’s been a while and I didn’t have time to write a text directly after it. What I did though (or rather what Mark Jones did) was to take some pictures with CiJi and me:
Even more interesting was how the interview developed. The idea of having it in the first place was spontaneous, so there wasn’t really a good order of questions. Some just came up in a specific moment, so you never knew where it was going. At one point CiJi told me that she knew someone named Lil’Poison (www.lilpoison.com) who started his pro gaming career with 4! He won his first competition with “Halo”! How cool is that? Especially if you consider how German censorship and parental guidance looks at these things here. Of course that seems to be a problem. Right now he’s 11 and sometimes can’t get into some competitions because he’s underage. Nevertheless, I guess it’s an awesome achievement and shows you can have a wunderkind in gaming culture as well, which needs as much intelligence as any other discipline (like chess or what have you).
We also talked about how different games are treated in other countries. Of course when it came to Germany I had quite a few things to say, especially with how games are heavily censored and made unavailable in regular stores.
I guess we as Germans have a long way to go before gaming is accepted as a cultural phenomenon (which it undeniably is), an art form (which some games clearly indicate) and even a sport (which needs a bigger step of acceptance with some people). If pro gaming can help to overcome obstacles like prejudices against FPS-gamers and make the public aware that it’s a hobby like every other hobby (or unlike any other, because it is so unique), then I’m all for it and maybe even try to get better at those games as well…
… which, btw, already happened as I’m writing this: I started again to play “Elite Beat Agents” on the Nintendo DS and completed it on the three difficulty levels (also very hard), now getting ready for the professional difficulty setting… something CiJi, I guess, would have started with in the first place. So here are some bits and pieces in the form of the final results after the last level of the “Sweatin'” difficulty proving more or less my first “pro gaming” beginning steps:
Vid (with my cat giving its approval by meowing):
So the interview did not only give me a better understanding of what makes a pro gamer and what it’s like to earn some money with it, but also made me go back to the time when I wasn’t interested in playing games on the hardest difficulty levels… Now I’m starting again. No game over yet. And maybe I’m also getting one of those fancy guitars for the rhythm-action games, who knows…
Oh, and I also got one of those nice business cards CiJi gave me which look pretty cool (so I hope to get another, better organized interview next time… maybe with one of my own cards… whatever they may be):
But I guess it’s more interesting to have some more pictures and videos of CiJi “StarSlay3er” Thornton to end this long blog entry on a higher note:
A longer song (hopefully the copyright notice is a mistake) of CiJi’s favorite band Lady Gaga:
A VERY long song, this time not even the hardest difficulty level, but it looks like a lot of pain for the eyes and fingers:
Some shorter videos from different angles:
These were recorded a few days earlier when I didn’t know that it was CiJi being there on stage ALL the time and doing those incredible moves:
And a slightly longer video than the others, with a look at the tracklist and some conversation snippets with Alex Reid, Operations Director of Instant Action (www.instantaction.com or http://www.instantjam.com):